The Egyptian press syndicate's board called journalists to an open meeting Wednesday at 2pm to discuss consequences of the recent conviction and sentencing of the head of the syndicate and two board members, and steps that should be taken in response.
The call comes hours after a Cairo misdemeanor court sentenced Saturday syndicate chairman Yehia Kalash and two other board members — Gamal Abdel-Reheem and Khaled El-Balshy — to two years in prison on charges of harbouring fugitives inside the syndicate's headquarters. The court set bail at 10,000 EGP pending appeal.
The statement issued by the board considered the verdict to be another move in a six-months old crisis engineered by the government against the syndicate.
The board decided to take all legal actions to appeal, stressing that “this verdict will not distract the syndicate from the basic issues currently facing journalists, such as the new media law and economic crises.”
In mid-April, Journalists Mahmoud El-Sakka and Amr Badr were arrested inside the Journalists' Syndicate headquarters on charges of inciting violence against the state ahead of the 25 April protests against the Egyptian-Saudi Red Sea island maritime border agreement.
The three union leaders were later accused by prosecutors of harbouring fugitives and referred to court.
El-Sakka and Badr were recently released on bail pending trial.
Anger: then and now
The 1 May raid on the headquarters of the syndicate by the interior ministry to arrest El-Sakka and Badr caused widespread anger among journalists, who organised a three-week long sit-in inside the syndicate.
Hundreds of journalists turned out and packed two meetings of the general assembly in one week, despite a virtual siege imposed by the interior ministry on the union's premises.
However, the journalists' reactions on Saturday to the unprecedented verdict against their chairman seemed narrower, as only dozens of journalists gathered inside the syndicate to protest.
Eman Ouf, a journalist who is member of the Front to Defend Journalists and Liberties, and who participated in May’s sit-in, told Ahram Online that the verdict was not shocking to her, describing it as "political."
According to Ouf, the "verdict resulted from the journalists’ failure to take a unified stand in May despite clear recommendations made in the general assembly meeting."
“The members of the syndicate's high board were divided between adopting the general assembly’s demands or adopting a lower tone in an attempt to reach a compromise with the state,” said Ouf.
“Unfortunately, [the board] chose the latter, so the general assembly lost interest.”
"The matter is now in the hands of the judiciary," said Salah Eissa, a writer and member of the Higher Council of Journalism (HCJ), describing the verdict as shocking, while blaming the current situation on "attempts that happened in the beginning of the crisis to make it look like a face-off between journalists and the state.”
“The conflict involved two state institutions, the press syndicate and the interior ministry; it could have been resolved through negotiations. The HCJ issued a statement calling for the adoption of such solution in order to preempt attempts of the enemies of the 30 June revolution to create a rift between the syndicate and the state," added Eissa.
"The syndicate, of course, has all my solidarity. Yet, I am sure the verdict will be overturned in the appeal.”
The Journalists' Syndicate received messages of solidarity from a number of regional and international bodies.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on “Egyptian authorities to let the Journalists' Syndicate and all members of the press do their jobs without fear of reprisal".
The Tunisian Press Syndicate threatened to take action on moving the headquarters of the Arab Journalists Union from Cairo as a sign of protest against the state’s "oppressive measures against journalists".
On Sunday, a delegation from the Lawyers' Syndicate, led by syndicate's hrad Sameh Ashour, visited Kalash to announce their solidarity. Ashour announced in the visit that he will join the press syndicate's defence team in the case.